Friday, July 24, 2015

Changing Key Heights

We had a customer in the repair shop this week who was interested in changing the key heights on her flute. Specifically, she wanted to lower the height of the French open hole keys.  We can understand how this could be an advantage from the perspective of the player's technique, but unfortunately, there was one reason it was not possible to lower the key heights.  What was it?  Venting.

Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, explained that keys have to open a specific amount in order to have the correct venting.  If she were to lower the keys, the flute would sound "stuffy," and there would be intonation issues because the keys would not have the proper venting.  Also, if one were to request having the key height increased, the result would be intonation issues as well since the keys would be too open. The venting and intonation problems that come from changing key heights beyond the proper measurement are not only for the keys that remain open on the flute. Rachel mentioned that in the past, she had a request to change the height of the G# key -- specifically, to change its height so that it would move less (of a distance) when pressed. The corresponding key cup (which is on the back of the flute) remains closed when the key is not in use.  However, once again, changing the key height would cause the key cup to not open enough when the key is pressed. So, the result would be venting and intonation problems.

There is one slight change that can be made, though.  Rachel said that for spatula keys, it is normally possible to change the angle slightly so that they are easier to reach.  Aside from this, key height is something that should stay in tact.  The heights are set to specific measurements so as to allow for proper venting and intonation.  With everything set properly, both you and your flute should be very happy!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Just Back from the Shop

Have you ever gotten your flute back from a C.O.A. (clean, oil, adjust) and noticed that it simply feels so much better in your hands -- and that you are not working as hard?  We spoke with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to learn more about the differences in your flute before and after repair...

Rachel told us that in general, a flute does not simply "stop working all of a sudden."  She said, "Well, of course, it could, but that is not typical!"  Over time, your flute experiences very gradual and subtle changes from the regular daily "wear and tear" on the instrument.  These changes are so subtle, in fact, that they go undetected, and the flutist will compensate for them without realizing it.  For instance, if one is having trouble with creating dynamic changes or feels that his/her sound is not full enough, s/he will work harder to try and achieve the desired results.  However, the reason for the difficulty may actually be air leaking -- which can happen over time.

After your flute comes back from the shop, one of the first things you'll notice is a nice, snug fit of the footjoint onto the body.  Your mechanism will be quieter, and the spring tension will be even throughout the mechanism.  You'll probably notice a better response in general, and suddenly the flute takes much less effort to play.  Why is this?  Well, any air leaks have now been remedied, so Rachel shared, "Your air is being used properly.  When air leaks, it does not travel the full route.   Leaks allow the air to get out where it is not supposed to, so you don't get as full or true of a sound." Once the leaks are gone and the flute is sealing, it should be much easier to get the results you intend! Relax and enjoy your sound!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Powell Handmade Alto

Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, has seen Powell flutes and piccolos of all ages and styles cross her bench over the years.  This week, however, she had the chance to work on something that she had never seen until now -- a Powell Handmade alto flute.

The flute (serial number 5006) was made in 1977 and was in the shop for a C.O.A. (clean, oil, adjust).  Looking back through the Powell Bible, we discovered that only 34 Powell alto flutes had been made in the history of the company.  The production of these flutes spanned from 1930 to 1990, with a large majority (15) being made between 1976 and 1978.  This particular alto was also one of only four that were made with gold lip plates.

Indeed, this was a special and memorable moment for Rachel. Speaking about the actual C.O.A. process on the alto, Rachel said it was pretty much the same as it is for C flutes.  She said, "same oil, same pads -- just things are a bit bigger." Although the flute originally had felt pads, we noticed that it now has Straubinger pads, so we could see her point about the similarity!

In terms of differences, this particular instrument was definitely one of a kind.  Rachel told us that when it comes to models (like altos) that were made in small quantities, you can find slight design differences among them.  She admired the keywork for its aesthetics and noted that both the body and mechanism were sterling silver.  She was particularly fond of the pointed arms and small points in the middle of the key cups which you will see in the photos below.

Although we did not have information on the actual karat of the lip plate, Rachel said that it is most likely 18k, as this was quite common during the time when this flute was made. Today, Powell offers alto flutes only in the Powell Sonaré line--the AF-60 and AF-70. Both models come with an all sterling silver Powell headjoint made at the shop in Maynard, Massachusetts, and a choice between straight or curved headjoints. Click here to find more information about these models on the Powell website.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Sticky Situation...

Good intentions can still lead to pad replacement...

This week, we visited our repair technician, Rachel Baker, just after she finished replacing six pads on a rather healthy flute that has been in the shop regularly for maintenance.  So, it seemed a bit odd to us...  Six pads all at once?  What happened?

Last week, we shared a post about how you can rip pads by polishing your flute if you use too much cloth and let it swipe the pads.  Oddly enough, this week's pad situation came from the customer cleaning his pads.  He had used a solution of some sort that is supposed to clean the pads, but, unfortunately, the pads were destroyed.  We weren't sure what exactly happened -- but neither was Rachel.  She reminded us that pads can be damaged not only by putting something (like this solution) on them, but also in the technique used to clean them.  For instance, many of us had been taught over the years to close the key on something like a dollar bill and pull it through to swipe the pad.  Unfortunately, in that case, there are two things to avoid: pulling something through the closed key cup and using a dollar bill.  If you pull something through the closed cup, the friction against the delicate pad skin can cause it to rip.  Also, dollar bills are not exactly the cleanest materials...  Using ungummed cigarette paper is best, and you definitely want to press -- not pull!  To review the proper technique, click here to read our previous post titled, "Sticky Pad Remedy."

Although cleaning your pads at home may seem like an interesting task, it really is best to leave the cleaning to the professionals.  Rachel also reminded us that, "if your pad is sticking, there's a reason for it," and the remedy lies in the hands of your repair technician.  However, you can at least try to alleviate the problem while you wait for your repair appointment by carefully and properly using cigarette paper.  Of course, if your pads are not sticking, and cleaning them sounds like something that wouldn't hurt, well, again -- resist the temptation and call your repair technician for his/her opinion.  Your flute will thank you for making that call!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Torn Pads from Polishing -- Part II

Arrows point to three keys with torn pads.

We had a flute come in to the shop that had not one. not two, and not even three -- but four torn pads.  Three of the pads were in a row, and the fourth was on the back (next the thumb key).  What was the cause of this mass number of torn pads? Well, the owner did not mention that there were any torn pads, so s/he may not have even known.  However, after an inspection by our technicians, it looked as though the pads had been torn by repeated swipes of the polishing cloth. Given that the pads were torn on the front edge, it's fairly safe to conclude that the tears came from either repeated long strokes of the cloth wiping the tubing and catching the pads, or it could have been from attempts to clean the sides of the tone holes with too much cloth.

In a previous post titled "Torn Pads from Polishing," we discovered that there is definitely a safe technique and approach to wiping your flute, and you should try to stay away from the tone holes.  Whereas the intentions of cleaning the outside of the flute with a cloth are good, the gesture could cause damage if the cloth is not controlled and if too much cloth is used. Click here to review the "Torn Pads from Polishing" post, which also includes photos of how best to use the cloth for polishing.

Close-up on torn pads.
Fourth torn pad
The right amount of cloth to use.
Using a cloth against sides of tone holes puts you at risk for rubbing against pads and tearing them.  Don't do this!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Telltale Sounds?

Even handmade professional flutes have normal key or mechanism noises.

As much as we might not want to fix something that suddenly becomes noisy, chances are that the noise is an indication of a problem.  For instance, if you are driving and hear a strange noise, it's very possible that the car needs a repair.  So, we wondered -- what about flutes?  Are there noises that might indicate something needs to be fixed?  We spoke with Powell's repair technician, Rachel Baker, to find out...

Rachel said that in the natural course of playing flute, most people begin on a student flute and eventually move up to a professional level, handmade flute.  The student and intermediate (or step-up) flutes will generally have mechanisms that are "noisier" than handmade flutes because of differences in materials and mechanism.  For instance, she told us that the tolerances on the student mechanism do not need to be as high as on a handmade professional model, so the mechanism itself is usually "noisier."  Student flutes also use adjustment screws that can produce a metal-on-metal noise.  However, these noises are normal, and flutists become accustomed to theses sounds, so if they move up to a handmade flute, they may not even notice any "unusual" noises.

With handmade professional flutes, there are a few things that might indicate issues that need to be repaired.  Noises to look out for include "sticking" noises from sticky pads.  In this case, it might also be an indication that the flute itself needs to be cleaned since the sticking noise could be from "grime" on the pads, tops of tone holes, or both.  Also, if the mechanism hasn't been oiled in a while, you might notice a "clanking" noise.  If something like a paper adjustment or key tail felt falls off, this can produce a noticeable  metal-on-metal noise.  And, if you hear a buzzing noise, Rachel said it could be a loose mechanism, loose solder, or pretty much any number of things.  She said that noise from something that needs to be repaired will definitely become more obvious as time goes on...

However, professional handmade flutes do have their fair amount of normal noises that are certainly no cause for alarm. She told us that any normal "noise' would not be heard over your own playing -- and definitely not by the audience.  As always, if you do hear something unusual, make sure to contact your repair technician sooner rather than later!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Keeping It Clean - Part II

Grey microfiber cloth inside case cover of a new Powell flute

We recently had a customer ask about how one should go about cleaning their microfiber cloths, and in an earlier post, we discussed a few options.  Follow this link to read that post, titled "Keeping It Clean."

However, in addition to the cleaning methods we discussed before, we've discovered yet another helpful product specifically for cleaning microfiber cloths: MicroRestore Microfiber Detergent.  Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, shared this one with us.  Although she ran across the product in car detailing shops, she said that you can purchase it online now, too.  The product description from reads as follows:

Micro-Restore is an optimized blend of chelating agents, surfactants, and builders in an aqueous system. It provides excellent cleaning performance to effectively remove stubborn soils and oily residue from microfiber, cotton and chamois material. Micro-Restore emulsifies dirty motor oil, greasy soils, car wax and protein stains, and suspends them for complete removal in the rinse cycle. Restores like new performance through several hundred cleanings.
Why is Micro-Restore better than your common household detergent? Micro-Restore is better than your common household detergent because most detergents and laundry soaps have some form of bleach and fabric softener included in their formulas (even when they say they don't there are small traces). Over time bleach breaks down the micro-fibers, and fabric softeners clog the microscopic pours that make microfiber so effective, rendering the microfiber product less effective with each washing.

Not only will Micro-Restore extend the life of your microfiber, but it's special blend of chelating agents, surfactants, and builders will more effectively remove the heavy residue (wax, oil, grease, break dust, and other chemicals) that becomes implanted in microfiber products when used in heavy cleaning situations (car care).

Directions: Add 2 ounces to standard size (8 gallon) loads. For larger loads or heavily soiled laundry, add 3-6 ounces. As a prespotter: dilute 1 part concentrate with 3 parts water. Apply to stain and launder as usual.

It is available through many sites online, including the MicrofiberTech websiteAmazon, Detailer's Domain, Detailed Image, and